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Saturday 5 January 2013
Letters: The misleading history of the Falklands
Is there a better example of the futility of approaching current problems through contested history than that of the Falklands/Malvinas?
Argentina was formed during the 19th century as a result of Spanish colonialism, and did not exist securely with its current name and boundaries until the 1860s. If all colonialism is outlawed by the UN, Argentina ought to be "returned" to the descendants of those sparse populations living there before the 16th century.
The Falklands were uninhabited when first visited, from the 17th century, by European mariners (Dutch, English, French and Spanish). Britain's claims date from a settlement built in 1766, and Spain's (then Argentina's) from an contemporaneous French colony acquired in 1767.
The British, ousted by Spain, were soon reinstated by treaty, but thereafter the British settlement faltered; three decades later so did the Spanish. Early in the 19th century, few, if any, settlers remained, though the rival territorial claims were not relinquished. In the 1820s, both settlement and posturing began again, culminating in a permanent British presence that has lasted from 1840 to the present day.
Colonialism and European settlement made Argentina, but the country is legitimised by the assumed will of its current inhabitants, and by international recognition. Colonialism does not explain the Falklands quite so well, unless it means European rivalry and overseas settlement, not sway over subject peoples. The Falklands legitimacy also rests on the will of its inhabitants. But its international recognition is muddied, not by history after all, but by its current status as a British dependency.
When Falklands islanders vote to remain British they are saying little more than that they would like United Kingdom taxpayers to pay their (rather large) defence bills and other costs which arise from the inconvenient location of the Falklands.
Well, probably we'd all like other people to pay our bills, but I have yet to hear any UK politician really seek to persuade us why we should pay these particular ones. And unlike the Falklanders, we will never be asked our views in a referendum.
Nearer home, people who live in the Channel Islands don't have to pay VAT when they go shopping. The reason is simple. In one way or another, mainly through lost tax revenues here, UK taxpayers subsidise the islands, who can run their own dodgy affairs without having to raise the usual taxes.
In both these island cases – and there are 20 more like them – the only way of introducing some fairness into the relationship would be to incorporate these territories into the UK, subject to UK law and taxation and with MPs at Westminster. Otherwise, they should really be left to take their chances.
I suppose it would be too cynical of me to link President Cristina Kirchner's resuscitation of the Malvinas/Falklands issue to the fact that Argentinians are demonstrating on the streets because of their country's parlous economic state (again). Perhaps all they have to eat is red herring.
D J Walker
The high cost of collecting very little tax
Your lead story "The great HMRC telephone rip-off" (18 December; letters, 20 December) touches on just one aspect of HMRC or their agents ripping the public off. Royal Mail and Parcelforce (both owned by the taxpayer) charge exorbitant administration fees for acting as HMRC's agents when collecting VAT on goods imported from outside the European Union into the UK.
I have received an invoice from Parcelforce for £25.24, made up of £11.74 for import VAT and £13.50 for a clearance fee. The same is true of Royal Mail, where it is not uncommon to be charged £8 to administer collecting VAT of less than that.
Something is clearly wrong with a system where it costs more to administer the collection of VAT than the value of the actual tax raised. Given that DHL can administer up to £2,500 of VAT and duty for a flat rate of £5, maybe both the Royal Mail and Parcelforce could break their costs down for us so that we can understand whether or not they are abusing their dominant position in the importation of personal goods into the UK.
I have to do tax returns for both a family trust and for myself, including some investment income, and lettings income and expenses.
I, too, have found it frustrating trying to phone the taxman (letters, 20 December), so I have gradually given up trying. At first, I tried once and held on for a minute or so. Now I don't bother but just write a letter straight away, in good time for any tax deadline, whether to give information or ask a question.
The reply may be slow, but it comes in the end. Even when I require some extra form I haven't got, I often improvise, giving the required information in a clear manner, either on what forms I do have or in a covering letter. I usually explain why I don't phone them. This all seems to work well.
As regards errors, I think HMRC has probably made no more than I have over recent years. Getting an unreasonable tax demand following my summer return for 2011-12, I re-checked and found I had omitted the tax deducted from my pensions. So I wrote a letter of correction and got a sensible correct tax assessment – no problem.
H Trevor Jones
I recently received a demand from HMRC for 25p (costing the revenue more to send than the actual payment). It said interest would be charged if I didn't pay this. Feeling compelled to ring them, I was told the liability had been sent out automatically and just to ignore it.
Unnecessary cost was caused to me having to ring them and to them (that is to say us, the taxpayers) sending it out in the first place.
Why house price rises are bad news
I get angry when I read that house prices going up is a good thing ("Southern comfort on house prices rise", 27 December), when a rise in the price of any other commodity is regarded as bad.
Rising house prices are good only for estate agents and folk who are looking to downsize. For everyone else they are bad, particularly would-be first-time buyers.
Rising house prices are seen as an indicator of confidence in a buoyant market, but rising prices in the London area are largely due to foreign money coming into the country from the overseas rich seeking a safe haven for their wealth. It cannot be due to the current stagnation of fortunes and lost jobs in the City, a situation likely to continue for many years to come.
House prices need to fall by as much as 30 per cent before the market rights itself, and the Government should be doing all in its power to bring this about.
East Bergholt, Suffolk
Language unites troubled region
It is somewhat bizarre for Robert Fisk (31 December) to blame the lack of progress in the Arab world on one of its greatest strengths: the Arabic language.
For all the region's variety, divisions and complications, Arabic allows communication from the Atlantic to the Gulf. This explains the remarkable success of pan-Arab satellite TV stations such as al-Jazeera.
Any lack of development and modernisation in the language is surely just a symptom of a broader malaise that has seen a lamentable lack of investment in the Arab world in knowledge production, research, translation and education. Once the Arab world returns to its roots and its golden era when knowledge and invention were highly valued, the talents of its people will reap rich dividends. It won't be Arabic that stops this.
Director, Caabu, Advancing Arab-British Relations, London EC4
No mystery about the Privy Council
Why does your article on the Privy Council and press regulation (3 January) allege that the council has not met for "at least 25 years", a claim based on the uninformed opinion of one anonymous Privy Councillor. The Privy Council Office website shows that it met as recently as 12 December; indeed, there were 11 meetings in 2012.
There is nothing mysterious or sinister about the Privy Council; it is part of the constitutional monarchy (like Beefeaters and the Order of the British Empire) and has the perfectly legitimate function of advising the monarch. Campaign for the abolition of the monarch, if that is your view, but perpetuating mythology is hardly responsible journalism.
John Rentoul (Errors & Omissions, 29 December) has a low opinion of the intelligence of your readers. The man shot alongside firefighters was a 911 dispatcher. On any relevant documents his job title will be stated as a "911 dispatcher", not a 999 dispatcher. Readers are exposed to enough American TV and news to know full well that 911 is the US emergency services number. There is no need to change a job description to the British equivalent.
Why is so much attention paid by the media to the views on radiotherapy of the mother of the unfortunate Neon Roberts? No thought seems to be given to the effects of publicising her erroneous views on the families of other children in the UK who are undergoing this extremely effective cancer treatment?
Dr Peter Kirkbride
What tosh from Arfon Rhys about children being recruited in the UK for active military service (letter, 3 January). Of course we have cadets, but no soldier may enter a theatre of war and take part in hostilities until 18 years old.
Sorry, David McKaigue (letter, 2 January), but ammeters are calibrated assuming the truth of Ohm's Law and must not be used to teach it. Georg Ohm used a galvanometer, and so must we.
Solihull, West Midlands
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